J.R. Johnson

1946 – Survey of the Old Year Poses Labor’s Tasks – 1947

(30 December 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 52, 30 December 1946, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The year 1946 is drawing to a close. It is a year in which there has never been so much employment in the United States. Some 60 million people have had what the capitalist press, for reasons of its own, likes to call “gainful” employment. Production, if not as high as during the later war years, has nevertheless soared beyond all bounds conceived of before the war.

During the year there has been no drought, earthquake, or tidal wave to wreck the constructions and plans by which men build civilization.

Except for the special barbarism of the South, the processes of democracy under capitalism have pursued their customary course. Parties have campaigned, people have listened and voted, legislatures and councils have assembled in true democratic fashion. No unions have been destroyed. If one union, the United Mine Workers, saw itself in danger of being annihilated financially, this attack was carried out by the government, headed personally by the President, and everything done was within the framework of capitalist law.

Abroad the United States is powerful as no other country has ever been in the whole history of mankind. All countries, ALL, tremble before the economic power and military might the U.S. displayed in the last war. Alone it holds the secret of the atomic bomb. The countries of the world, in every continent, either seek desperately to share in this economic and political power, or mobilize all their forces and allies in frantic attempts to ward off, to lessen, to undermine this colossal potential enemy.

Such is the reality of 1946. Surely this is the dream of capitalistic, of imperialistic ambition come true.

And yet, never, never, has the capitalist system been in such dire peril at home and abroad. The working class and the great masses of the people have demonstrated a bitterness, a resentment against their conditions of labor and of life which have repeatedly threatened the whole economy with paralysis. Leaders of rival labor organizations have been driven to closer unity than at any time during the past thirty years, forced to unite in a common defense against the threat to labor’s most elementary rights and liberties.

The capitalist class has found it necessary to mobilize itself in defense of its system, its profits and its privileges in a manner that shows it feels itself and all it stands for to be in serious danger. Class struggle and all its atfendant antagonisms have raged with unabated ferocity through every month of 1946, and as the. new year faces us there is no peace nor hint of peace.

Abroad the picture is the same. Capitalism has not known such imperialist antagonism as now exists between the U.S. and Stalinist Russia. Britain is torn between need for U.S. economic and military might, hatred of U.S. domination and fear of being sucked down by a crisis-ridden U.S. economy.

In Central Europe, where millions can exist only by means of doles from U.S. production, hatred for the arrogance, the incompetence and the black market thievery of the occupying forces grows apace. In India, in the Middle East, in the Far East, in Latin America, vast millions are learning to distinguish between the democratic pretensions and the actual close alliance with fascistic and reactionary cliques which characterize American policy in their countries.

This is the picture. Let him deny who can. Victory and sixty million jobs have only added sixty million torments, frustrations, enmities and defeats to the lives of the American people.

The capitalistic system under which we live is washed up. It can function only by antagonisms and maladjustments, suffering, lies, pretenses, repressions, hypocrisies, which show that its vital organs and mechanisms are in irreparable decay.

Democracy, “our free institutions,” have been the greatest pride of capitalism and above all of U.S. capitalism. Yet 1946 has seen democracy failing at every turn. Government of the people, by the people, for the people has been flouted at every critical stage of the life of the nation.

In the face of food shortages and rising prices, the people clamored for price control. If it had been possible to take a Gallup poll of the nation, it is safe to say that over 80 per cent of the population would have been overwhelmingly in favor of such control. Yet between them, Congress, the elected “representatives” of the people, and the President, directly elected by the people, broke the system of price control, such as it was, and frustrated the wishes of the people.

This was one of the great battles of the year and in it was exemplified the insoluble contradiction, the living fraud of capitalist democracy. For so long as the ownership, the control, the monopoly of the means of production are retained by a few there follows automatically the impotence of the votes of the many.

Capitalist parliamentarism cannot counteract this stranglehold by the monopolists upon the vital life-source of the nation. The workers and the great masses of the people wanted price control. The meat interests and their capitalistic allies simply starved out the people – refused to let them have any meat and related products until they had attained their end – the abolition of price control.

Once more capitalist democracy was exposed for what it was, the tool of capitalist interests. It was not long before a more brutal example of its true character was held up before the people. The meat interests had meanly, secretly and conspiratorially agreed with one another and Congress to starve the people into submission. But when the United Mine Workers openly before the nation demanded higher wages, then the same government which had been so helpless in face of the capitalist starvation of the people, suddenly recovered all its vigor.

Those capitalists who starved the nation had won their demands. The workers who demanded higher wages and better conditions for the most essential, the most difficult and most dangerous work in the country were met with all the judicial and propagandistic power at the disposal of the capitalist state and the capitalist class. When the capitalists withdrew their meat, complete capitulation by the state! When the miners withdrew their labor, complete mobilization by the state.

It is this, the capitalist character of all the institutions of production and of government which have racked the country during the past year. This is the root of the evil.

During the four years from 1941 to 1944, despite the fact that nearly 13 million of the youngest and most physically fit and best educated were withdrawn from labor, production in the United States reached astonishing heights. The government fed, clothed, housed, drilled, educated, transported these millions to various ends of the earth. At the same time it could give a pittance to their dependents. It built ships, it built planes and tanks and guns lavishly. It produced food for the U.S., food for Britain, food for Russia, munitions for the U.S., munitions for Britain, munitions for Russia.

But in 1946 the war was over. The same people, the same nation, wanted housing. This same government, which could perform so much in 1940-44, suddenly has become impotent. It can do nothing. It could take two billion dollars during the war, find labor, build whole towns, produce an atomic bomb. It could build supply lines running from the heart of the United States to the center of Asia, the heart of Africa, to Iceland, to Italy, to anywhere!

But houses? It cannot. It doesn’t know what to do. And a housing shortage of unprecedented scope has poisoned home life in the United States during the very year 1946 when possibilities of building existed such as have never existed before.

Under capitalism and its democracy, it is what capital wants that wins, not what the people want. Look back again at 1946. The people wanted a great housing program. What have they got? The people want rent control. Of every 100 people, Democratic or Republican, 99 want rent control. Yet 1946, gloomy as it has been, has its last days clouded still more by the fact that unless a herculean effort is made by the public, their rents are going to be raised. Vote Democrat, vote Republican – the result is the same.

Wave of Brutality

Thus 1946, the year after the great war for democracy, has seen a wave of brutality against Negroes such as has not been seen in this country for 20 years. A crop of lynchings all over the country, particularly the South, shocked the nation. Tens’ of millions, white and black, both North and South, felt that such a lynching as that of the two Negro couples in Georgia, threatened something vital to the existence and the reputation of the U.S. as a civilized country.

The federal government, Congress, the judiciary, all of them suddenly realized their impotence. They could do nothing. They had tracked down German spies and celebrated it in films. OSS had carried on sabotage and espionage in all quarters of the globe; in a few weeks the government would build up a legal case against John L. Lewis which would threaten the union he leads with financial extinction. Truman was ready to. use Army, Navy and Air Force against the railway men. He used the whole judicial system against the UMW. But against the lynchers, the capitalist state suddenly goes bankrupt in every nerve and limb. He is a blind tool and slave of capitalism who cannot see that the state is the tool and slave of the economic powers.

Power of Workers

Yet if 1946 has shown us the pretenses and the realities of capitalist democracy as never before, by the same token the year shows us the growing recognition of the need for united resistance among the organized workers. There lies the only power strong enough to challenge, to engage and to conquer capital.

For organized labor the year has been a testing-ground, and organized labor has struggled and suffered and learned. The UAW strike, the steel strike, the splendid series of maritime strikes, the strike of the railwaymen, in all these heroic efforts labor repeatedly showed its determination not to be deflected from its objectives by the government.

But as the prices rose and turned the wage gains to ashes, there slowly grew in the working class a sober realization that such strikes did not bring the desired results. The attempt of the government to smash the UMW was a rallying signal to all labor. From one end of the country to the other could be heard the recognition by labor that the threat to Lewis was a threat to the whole labor movement. It culminated in the letter of Murray to the AFL and the Railroad Brotherhoods calling for united action.

In Detroit, the storm center of capital-labor relations in the crisis-ridden U.S., AFL and CIO prepared for a 24-hour general strike to demonstrate labor solidarity with the UMW and defiance of the government.

As the year ends, the UAW, the Steel-Workers and the United Electrical Workers are planning a joint strategy which they and the whole country know will set the pattern for the wage negotiations and inevitable struggles which will begin in 1947.

What Will 1947 Bring?

Who seeks some order, some pattern, some line of thought by which to orient his thinking and his actions had better learn to read the lessons of 1946. Magnificent productive power on the one hand and an almost malicious incapacity to satisfy the needs of the people on the other. A type of democracy which produces a government able to perform miracles for the capitalists, but which is powerless to implement the clearly-expressed wishes of the people, a government which springs into life and energy only when it is necessary to intimidate and beat down the labor movement.

And where lies salvation? Not in the sky. But there under our eyes the force which will replace capitalism (or otherwise we perish), there under our eyes, the labor movement has fought the capitalist class and its capitalist government unceasingly through the year. That struggle continues. That is already the keynote of 1947.

What will 1947 bring? No one can tell. But this much is certain. The capitalist government, capitalist democracy, cannot change its spots. It is as it is and does as it does because it must. It represents capitalist interests against the great body of the nation.

It is the type of government that must be changed. We want a government of the workers, based upon the economic power of the working class, their ownership and control of the means of production, of the resources of the nation. How could such a government, a people’s government in the most genuine sense of that term, how could it deny, flout and cheat the wishes of the people.

As we look into the darkening gloom of 1947 we can see a way out if we can only grasp the true pattern of 1946 – increasing decay and barbarism of capitalist civilization, increasing solidarity of labor against this unbearable chaos and tyranny.

Must See Task

But to struggle successfully labor must see its task clearly. That task can be summed up in a sentence. It is to replace the capitalist government with a workers’ government.

Unity of labor, organize the unorganized, especially organize the South, defense of the living standards of the lower middles classes; joint labor-farmer committees; defense of the democratic rights and abroad, all American aid to workers’ and farmers’ political and industrial organizations abroad; these and a dozen other slogans, programs aims, aspirations, hopes, form the content of the struggles of American labor in this year which faces us and for years to come.

But they will achieve their fullest fruition, awaken the greatest enthusiasm, call forth miracles of organization and sacrifice as yet unseen, only when labor has its own independent political party, its own independent aim, mortal struggle against the pretenses of capitalist democracy, and its own proud goal, a free socialist society.

Last updated on 8 July 2019